Wheel­spin

Honda de­buts mo­tor­cy­cle self-bal­anc­ing tech­nol­ogy at CES that al­lows mo­tor­cy­cle to bal­ance it­self at a stop and at low speeds with­out gy­ros

Sport Rider - - Front Page - PHOTOGRAPHY COUR­TESY OF HONDA

When it comes to safety and tech­nol­ogy, you can al­ways count on Honda to be at the cut­ting edge of de­vel­op­ment. The com­pany’s lat­est demon­stra­tion of this en­gi­neer­ing prow­ess was at the open­ing of the an­nual CES (Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show) held in Las Ve­gas, where Honda in­tro­duced its “Moto Rid­ing As­sist” sys­tem that uti­lizes ro­bot­ics tech­nol­ogy to al­low a mo­tor­cy­cle to bal­ance it­self at slow speeds and while stopped.

Rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle at very slow speeds re­quires a mod­icum of skill from the rider to main­tain bal­ance and keep from fall­ing over. Be­cause of its sin­gle- track wheel stance, a two- wheeled ve­hi­cle will fall over with­out some sort of bal­ance as­sis­tance. This in­volves a sub­tle dance of power ap­pli­ca­tion and steer­ing cor­rec­tions from the rider, with front- wheel move­ments be­ing the pri­mary fac­tor.

Gy­ro­scopes can help with bal­anc­ing, but they add sig­nif­i­cant weight and bulk. Honda sidestepped this prob­lem by us­ing an in­no­va­tive com­bi­na­tion of so­phis­ti­cated ro­bot­ics, pro­pri­etary soft­ware tech­nol­ogy, and var­i­ous levers and elec­tric mo­tors to mod­ify the steer­ing an­gle and sub­tly turn the front wheel to coun­ter­act the mo­tor­cy­cle’s ten­dency to tip over.

Honda ac­com­plishes this by hav­ing the steer­ing con­trolled by an elec­tric mo­tor at­tached to the top of the steer­ing head— ba­si­cally, a “steer by wire” sys­tem. In ad­di­tion, an elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled link­age sys­tem on the bot­tom triple clamp ex­tends the an­gle of the fork rel­a­tive to the steer­ing head as the bike rolls to a stop, chang­ing the steer­ing ge­om­e­try’s trail. By rak­ing out the fork rel­a­tive to the steer­ing head, the trail changes from pos­i­tive (the line through the steer­ing head in­ter­sects the ground ahead of the front axle, like most mo­tor­cy­cles) to neg­a­tive (the steer­ing head line ends up be­hind the front axle).

By chang­ing the trail from pos­i­tive to neg­a­tive, the mo­tor­cy­cle’s steer­ing has much greater ef­fect on restor­ing bal­ance. With neg­a­tive trail, turn­ing the steer­ing into the di­rec­tion the bike is fall­ing ac­tu­ally forces the bike up­right, mak­ing it ef­fec­tive as a restor­ing force in bal­anc­ing the bike. By us­ing so­phis­ti­cated ro­bot­ics soft­ware to con­trol the elec­tronic steer­ing, Moto Rid­ing As­sist is able to keep the bike up­right with or with­out a rider aboard.

Be­cause the sys­tem is mounted on the steer­ing head and triple clamp ar­eas, Honda says Moto Rid­ing As­sist can be retro- fi tted to many ex­ist­ing mod­els with­out ex­ten­sive mod­i­fi­ca­tion. That the sys­tem was fit­ted to a DCT- equipped NC750S fi ts right with part of its ap­pli­ca­ble mar­ket: com­mut­ing ur­ban rid­ers who are in­tim­i­dated by the skills re­quired to pi­lot a full- size bike at low speeds. There were no an­nounce­ments on whether the Moto Rid­ing As­sist sys­tem would be put into pro­duc­tion, but you can bet this con­cept isn’t far off in the hori­zon.

I al­ready know what many of you are think­ing: “This is ridicu­lous. If a per­son can’t bal­ance them­selves at a stop or at slow speeds, they shouldn’t be rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle.” While I prob­a­bly would have agreed with that state­ment decades ago, the sit­u­a­tion re­gard­ing the mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try has changed since then. The prob­lem right now is that we don’t have enough new rid­ers com­ing in to re­place the ones who are ag­ing out of the mar­ket. There are likely many peo­ple who would like to ride a mo­tor­cy­cle but ei­ther can’t be­cause of phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions or don’t be­cause they’re in­tim­i­dated by bal­anc­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle’s size and bulk at low speeds. Moto Rid­ing As­sist could give these peo­ple rea­son to try rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle, and at this point in time, we can’t af­ford to be the slight­est bit elit­ist about our sport.

For those purists who will wail about the Moto Rid­ing As­sist’s steer- by- wire sys­tem and elec­tron­ics tak­ing away the skill of rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle, the fear of tech­nol­ogy in mo­tor­cy­cling is ground­less. All mo­tor­cy­cles won’t even­tu­ally be self- pro­pel­ling ve­hi­cles; there will al­ways be a choice, just like most trac­tion con­trol sys­tems (and many ABS set­ups) can be turned off if de­sired. Tech­nol­ogy has helped mo­tor­cy­cling, and in this case, it’s some­thing that could benefi t the sport that I want to see re­main healthy into the long- term fu­ture. SR

BY KENT KUNITSUGU

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